On Sunday December 6th I led worship at Harlow Carr Chapel with the help of Brian the worship leader. The steward led the Advent candle reading for the second Sunday in Advent; the theme was candles in the darkness bringing light. Two candles were lit to remind us of the prophets. We are to be lights shining for Jesus and not hide our light under a bushel. We sang, ‘The Church’s one foundation is Jesus Christ our Lord, before I led the prayers of praise, thanksgiving, confession and the Lord’s Prayer.
Although there were no children I gave a short talk, wondering if they were ready for Christmas, how they would feel if the Queen came to visit; would they feel they had to tidy and clean everything to make their home acceptable? Do we feel ready to meet Jesus again afresh this Christmas and have you sent off or delivered all your Christmas cards and parcels or are you like me and still have loads to do before Christmas? John the Baptist came to prepare the way for Jesus, by leading them to be sorry for what they had done wrong and start afresh to serve God and be ready to meet Jesus. God loves us so much that he sent Jesus to show us how to live, love and serve others; I never stopped loving and still adore my daughters, but I just had to correct them at times to prevent them from getting hurt or hurting others and if I could do that, I can begin to understand how much more Jesus loves me, even when I keep making mistakes. We sang, ‘Make way make way for Christ the King,’ before we heard the readings from Malachi 2.17-3.5 and Philippians 1.3-11. We sang ‘On Jordan’s bank the Baptist’s cry’ before we had a dramatised reading based on Luke 3.1-6 in which I read the part of the narrator.
Malachi, the Messenger, the prophet criticised his people for denying justice, in particular the sorcerers or false prophets, the adulterers, who were those who ignored the plight of widows, orphans or aliens. He foresaw God’s judgment refining them, as silver is refined, so that they might reflect the love and justice of God in their lives. Such a message is valid today; have we lost touch with the God of justice? Have we forgotten how to be compassionate towards those who have no work, no home, suffer from disability or mental health issues, or those displaced as refugees by war and climate change? I feel that Malachi’s challenge to work for justice and compassion helps us to open to repentance and to hear again for our day John the Baptist’s message, so that our lives can reflect the love and compassion of Jesus.
Luke was careful to set the coming of John the Baptist in the context of the times; he dated it carefully describing the Palestinian political situation in 6 different ways; the fifteenth year of reign of Emperor Tiberius, Herod Antipas reigned over Galilee and Peraea, Philip over Iturea and Trachonitis, Lysanias over Abilene, Pontius Pilate was the Roman Governor and Annas and Caiaphas were the High priests. It was not usual to have more than one High priest but at the time of the Roman occupation that did often happen; Annas was the power behind the throne, as it was his son in law Caiaphas who was actually the High priest. Zechariah had foreseen that his son John would have the significant role of being the prophet called to prepare the way for Jesus and to pronounce forgiveness for the people’s sin when they were baptised, after they had repented. When a king was expected a courier was always sent ahead to make sure the roads were ready for his tour round his lands and John was seen as just such a courier. Proselytes and adherents to the Jewish faith were generally baptised but not the Jews, until they were challenged by John to renew their faith. We too are challenged to prepare our hearts and minds to welcome again Christ this Christmas and everyday afresh into our lives.
Paul was profoundly thankful to God when he remembered the joy and enthusiasm of the Philippians. He prayed that God’s grace would continue to transform their lives through Jesus Christ. He prayed for them to be filled daily with God’s overwhelming love so that their love for one another and others might grow, so they would be ready to meet Jesus when he returned. Let us likewise be transformed through God’s refining fire, recognising our need to repent and work for justice. Let us use our time to grow closer to Jesus so he can enable us to work to improve the barren and vulnerable lives of others sharing Christ’s love and compassion with a needy world, so that they might come to meet our Lord Jesus and have renewed and abundant life.
We sang ‘Come thou long expected Jesus,’ following the sermon. Brian led the prayers of intercession and worship concluded as we sang, ‘Rejoice, the Lord is King!’